Twenty-five years ago, Priscilla Plummer was sitting with a group of women in a village in Mozambique. Knee-deep in the research for her master’s degree, she wanted to learn about the realities people were facing in Southern Africa. As she got to know the women in her village and listened to their stories, Priscilla realized their experience was very different from the picture painted by the big development organizations with their projects and programs and reports. It was clear that a new approach was needed.
If these communities were to actually break the cycle of deep poverty and really thrive, they’d need to start from the ground up. And if they wanted to create true, lasting change, they’d need to start with the youth. So Priscilla and her community of friends started Global Sojourns Giving Circle to help these communities begin this journey.
With complex issues like deep poverty, you can’t tackle everything at once. So you look for leverage points, where a small effort can have a big impact and start to shift the system. Helping girls gain confidence in themselves and pursue their dreams is one of those leverage points.
These girls grow up in deeply patriarchal societies that keep women in predefined roles: having babies and tending the household. But this means that tremendous human potential is being lost. In communities destabilized by decades of HIV/AIDS, economic adversity and environmental degradation, developing human potential is a sure path to a better future. And girls are the key.
The research is overwhelmingly clear: investing in girls is one of the most effective ways to uplift communities and families. According to the United Nations, women and girls reinvest 90% of their income in their families, while men only reinvest 30% to 40%. By the same token, “if women farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry in the world could be reduced by up to 150 million.”
Investing in girls is smart. It is central to boosting development, breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty, and allowing girls, and then women—50 percent of the world’s population—to lead better, fairer, and more productive lives. Girls who are more educated earn more income, have greater access to family health information and services, are more likely to delay early marriage and childbirth, and to have healthier babies. Investing in girls is the right thing to do. Now. ~ Robert B. Zoellick, (Former) President, The World Bank Group
Global Sojourns Giving Circle empowers girls in order to strengthen communities. The GSGC mentorship program instills confidence in girls at a young age and helps them develop their skills, talents and capacities to pursue their dreams and contribute to their communities. These mentorship clubs help girls live a life of dignity, gaining agency over their own bodies, their lives and their future. As these girls gain a sense of their own value and learn how to contribute to their communities, their communities start to see their value too. Entrenched patterns start to shift.
A community is nourished from its roots. If the roots are strong, the grass grows thick and healthy and can support life. The same is true with communities.
A lot of big development organizations take a top-down approach and come to these villages with a predefined program. They hire a manager to come in and implement the program. There’s a lot of activity and plenty of t-shirts. But inevitably, the funding dries up or the priorities shift and the manager moves away. Without true buy-in from the local people, the program peters out.
Global Sojourns takes a different approach. They connect with local change makers and innovators, the people who have the drive to bring about change in their communities. They spend time with these individuals and become friends. The team listens to their stories, their experience, their local knowledge, their understanding of their context. They build trust and provide space for these friends to share their dreams and their passion.
When it’s clear there’s a good match, the GSGC team invites these individuals into the circle and helps them form their own mentoring club for girls. Global Sojourns empowers these mentors with resources, training and accompaniment to develop their own plans and implement their own ideas. They connect the mentors with each other through in-person and online meetings to share ideas, inspire one another and get help with challenges. They provide tools and templates, funding and friendship, suggestions and support so these mentors can succeed in implementing the plans that they design. The Global Sojourns model is to strengthen individuals who are bringing about change in their own communities.
Our core belief at GSGC is that everyone deserves a life of dignity. When you are a girl living in an environment of deep economic poverty and patriarchal attitudes, it is a struggle to live a life of dignity, of agency. It has been a privilege to come alongside and support dynamic community changemakers who share in a vision where girls and women are valued. We are blessed to work in an environment that acknowledges that real change comes from within and that it takes a supportive community to make a bold vision become a reality. ~ Priscilla Plummer, Founder of Global Sojourns Giving Circle
Priscilla Plummer and Teresa, Livingstone, Zambia
Mentoring is Key
GSGC now has 37 mentors who run 47 clubs for girls (and now boys, as you will see) throughout Southern Africa. It’s through these clubs that the girls get the mentoring they need to succeed. The mantra for the organization is: “I see you. I hear you. I believe in you.”
Mentorship is rare in these communities that have been shaken up by decades of adversity. HIV/AIDS broke families apart; many of these girls lost a parent or close relatives. Economic conditions have forced many of the men and elders to find work elsewhere. The girls haven’t had anyone to invest time or attention in them.
In these mentoring clubs, the girls learn to see that their lives matter. They find ways to heal their wounds. They realize that they do have gifts and potential and they can contribute to society.
With help from their mentors, the girls identify their own strengths and talents. They learn how to research and plan a career path, receiving guidance and encouragement to pursue their chosen career. These girls develop survival skills, so they aren’t dependent on others. They get emotional support to for facing their difficulties and challenges. Through these clubs they develop strength and resilience, making them less vulnerable to abuse and teenage pregnancy. They build bonds with their mentors and with each other that help them succeed in whatever goals they set for themselves.
What About the Boys?
Female empowerment is not just a women’s issue, it’s about bringing the boys along too. For quite a while, GSGC’s donors have been pointing out that to really empower girls, you need buy-in from the boys. But this, too, must come from the grassroots. A few years ago Nyika-Ino Muyambo, one of the local men in Zimbabwe, attended a GSGC gathering and listened to a TEDTalk by Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee, who pointed out that empowered women will help us all—our communities and our world. Her words lit a fire under him and now he is determined to bring the boys along. He has inspired and trained mentors for two boys’ mentoring clubs in Zambia and is now helping to start three more boys’ clubs in his own community in Zimbabwe. The ripple effect is already visible and demand for boys’ clubs is growing.
How is This Funded?
GSGC works on an annual funding cycle of providing grants to these local change makers. Each year, the mentors create a plan for their mentorship clubs, based on their context, their local knowledge and their understanding of the girls’ needs. With guidance and assistance from GSGC, the mentors submit their proposals with a budget for the year. The mentors win grants for these proposals and provide quarterly reports on their progress. An independent review board provides feedback and guidance.
Global Sojourns is not just a nonprofit, it’s a giving circle; so it’s donor base is grassroots as well. These are ordinary people who believe in GSGC’s bottom-up approach of investing in girls to strengthen communities. It’s an open circle, continually expanding. Anyone who is attracted to this approach is welcome to join.
What is the Impact?
By 2017, GSGC had 12 ongoing mentorship clubs for girls. Now there are 47 clubs that reach both girls and boys. And the results are impressive:
Girls are going further in school; their dropout rates are declining.
Many of these girls are the first in their families to graduate from secondary school (high school).
Teenage pregnancy is starting to decline.
These girls now have healthier relationships with boys and men.
The girls are gaining confidence in themselves.
Now the girls see more possibilities for themselves, their lives, and their careers. Many of them are continuing on to tertiary education (college and trade schools).
There’s now an alumni program where the girls can come back and inspire the younger girls entering the clubs.
These young people, both boys and girls, are also developing their English skills, as the clubs provide the informal practice so essential for language fluency.
These clubs are now creating income generating businesses. It began with sewing face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. When the girls realized they could earn money and contribute to their communities, they started a business together.
Perspectives are shifting. The headmen and elders of these villages are starting to see the value of these clubs and support them. In Zambia, a village headman offered a sizable plot of land—acres of natural area—to one of the clubs to empower the girls. The club mentors are planning to develop the land into a safe space for artists and a place to educate the youth in conservation principles and practices.
What are We Learning?
Paige Hasson, Priscilla’s sister, shared what she’s learned over these last 14 years:
GSGC holds to its core belief that “we listen and we value those on the ground and we believe in them.” It’s about breaking down that barrier of “superiority”, of thinking we have all the answers. We’re willing to give that up, to come in and really listen to the people and learn from them and go from there. And it’s hard work. We’ve learned a lot and we’ve made a lot of mistakes. But we’re willing to hang in there and keep trying and admit our mistakes and learn from them. Once the mentors began to see themselves as equals, it really made a difference. We believe in each other and we trust each other. It has taken a while to overcome this barrier of superiority—on both sides. But now the trust is there.
Devon Concar, GSGC’s communications guru shared his perspective as well:
GSGC believes in local—that it’s the local people who know the context. They know what is appropriate in bringing about actual change. GSGC’s approach is to empower these local change makers to actually implement their ideas. This is why this program has sustained and is growing. Now, other individuals in the community are starting to see that this is something they can get behind. It’s not some foreign organization coming in to implement a predefined plan. It’s the local people developing the plans themselves.
Global Sojourns is producing amazing results for girls in Southern Africa. And it’s local people, empowered with resources and support, who are making it happen.
The world of humanity has two wings—one is women and the other men. Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly. ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá